UFT head Randi Weingarten’s advertorial in Sunday’s NYT (pdf) is worth reading. Just because a teachers’ union head says that value-added measurement as an accountability tool for teachers has some problems, doesn’t mean that’s wrong. And to her credit Randi didn’t just say that it’s “crap”, she actually engaged with the question. Kevin Carey is right that she didn’t fairly characterize the RAND study on value-added but she is right that some serious folks, including Dale Ballou and Kate Walsh have raised important questions about the state of play here. In my role as a policymaker in VA I would not be willing to go too far on this front because I think these models are still awfully noisy except at the extremes. In other words, they can tell you who really lousy and really great teachers are, but in the vast middle, where most teachers are, they’re of less utility. That said, the Aspen recommendations, which include support for better data, very long timelines, and focus on the margins at the low-end are quite defensible and this is a promising direction to go.

Overall, I think the technical debate here serves to reveal a bigger dilemma for the teachers’ unions. Education is pivoting (clumsily at times) toward greater accountability for outcomes and more accountability for teachers is going to be part of that change. They’re right that we don’t want a single-measure accountability mechanism for teachers and also right that because not all subjects/grade-levels are assessed such a system would not work across the board. But that’s not an argument against more accountability for teachers. In fact, it actually points to something you see in a lot of other fields namely — gasp — managerial discretion within a framework of common standards for evaluation. For my money you want a mix of data, such as value-added, and informed professional judgment (which can take multiple forms). You don’t want to tie your managers’ hands with an inflexible evaluation system but the flip side of that coin is discretion.

In any event, this is the right debate to be having because we’re at least talking about how not if…

4 Replies to “Value-Add?”

  1. The whole educational system is collapsing here in North America. I think it is only a matter of time before the rest of the world tops our average intelligence and we are left behind. It’s such a shame. As a teacher myself, I feel it becoming more and more difficult each year. Not only from the faculty but also from the students who have been pushed ahead when they should have been left behind.

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